Week 1: "I have no idea what I'm going to do after I graduate or how I'll be allowed to stay in Europe!" (wringing hands)
Week 2: " I had a phone interview yesterday and am going to Helsinki on Monday for a face-to-face interview!" (nervously bouncing in chair)
Week 3: "I got the job! I started working yesterday and am moving to Helsinki in June!" (eyes wide in shock)
It was a whirlwind few weeks to say the least and my psychiatrist could hardly keep up with these fast-paced changes let alone me!
Through a series of fortunate events, my Master's thesis super-advisor also happened to be involved in a start-up company - GlucoModicum. The company's vision is to develop a non-invasive glucose sensor to be used by diabetics. In my Master's thesis, I had already been working on a sensor to detect specific DNA strands so it wasn't a big jump to start working with glucose. In fact, the more I prepared for the job interview, the more I realised that this is what I had spent all these years studying for. If there ever was an opportunity to seize, it was this one!
As the interview turned from my experience as a chemist and towards when I could move to Helsinki, my head started spinning with the reality of the changes that were to come.
I had made a plan, you see. My plan was that I would take 5 months off running, in January I would find my previous joy and motivation for training and by April I would be in top shape and ready for a strong comeback at the competitions. During this time, I would also finish the experimental section of my Master's thesis and then leisurely write it in time to graduate in June.
Well, getting a job in January certainly put a twist onto those plans!
It was extremely difficult to transition from being a student to being an employee. As a student, what I did in the lab was for me and my education and it was enough. As an employee, I felt like I could never do enough, that I didn't know enough and the pressure I put on myself was immense. Thankfully, after enough positive self-talk, that has levelled out over time to a point where I can say "I don't know but I will try to find out" and I can finish off a workday with the thought "I did my best today and it was enough".
|I love using what I have learned to contribute and be part of a project that is much, much bigger than me! |
Photo: Jaana Honkanen
The whole comeback part has been a bit more complicated. I tried so hard to "come back"; to find what it was that I had before - the enthusiasm for training and the determination to excel in sport. I tried so hard to come back but eventually I had to, instead, try to let go. I had to come to terms with the fact that this just wasn't the right time; that by trying to come back, I would actually be going backwards. And that was the last thing that I wanted.
When I took a complete time-out in the fall, I had understood that I was in a very fragile position. I was in a lot of pain physically and emotionally but inside I had found this flickering but bright flame. And that flame grew brighter when I was outside, just walking through the forest and breathing in the fresh air. However, I knew that it was the type of flame that if I blew too hard it would flicker out.
I knew that if I were to continue moving forward, I would have to do something differently.
It started with focusing on my studies, it developed into starting this job as a chemist and it's turned into accepting that, right now, I just enjoy being active as a way to move my body and feel alive. I tried to follow a training program and I tried to imagine myself competing at WOC but it just wasn't right. It felt constricting and it felt scary and it felt too soon.
While I won't be competing at any international events this year, it has been important for me to try out competitions on a smaller scale and run for my ever-supportive club, Angelniemen Ankkuri. It's been frustrating to face the fact that I only have two speeds, walking and running, but running for my teammates inspires me to do my best no matter my physical shape at the moment.
Sometimes though, I still get really, really sad. Striving to be a world-class athlete has been such a steadfast part of my life for so many years now. Life changing decisions were made because I wanted to explore and improve in new ways. After putting so much into a sport, it's hard to take a step away from it all; not necessarily because I want to, but because I feel that it is a choice that I have to make in order to heal and to grow.
|A 16-year old Emily competing at JWOC for the first time and |
dreaming to, one day, be at the top of that international stage.
It is the art of letting go, of looking for a way forward rather than trying to claw my way back, of being honest with myself and open to whatever may be in store for me next. Usually, if I let go of my expectations, things turn out even better than I could have planned them myself.
Sometimes the grief has been overwhelming - while running, looking at a results list, watching an international competition, scrolling through social media - I am reminded of all that I do not have anymore. But I have to remind myself of all that I am other than an elite athlete: a Master's student, an employee, a healthy human being, an attentive friend, a supportive teammate, a loving sister and daughter...
It sure has been a tricky route to navigate so far but today was different than yesterday and who knows how it will be tomorrow.